Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs


Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
Well, maybe one small thing.
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
“Yeah,” he said.
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Flyers Skate Update: Travis Konecny's climb reaches 1st line

Flyers Skate Update: Travis Konecny's climb reaches 1st line

A month ago, Travis Konecny was entering training camp with no job in hand. 
The plausibility of being sent back to the junior level for another year of development against fellow teenagers was real.
Tonight, he’s a top-line player with NHL All-Stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Talk about a growth spurt.
When the Flyers host the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN), the 19-year-old winger and Voracek will join the Flyers’ captain on the team’s No. 1 line for a brand-new look to the 2016-17 season.
“They know all the drills, things like that, they’re definitely experienced,” Konecny said Thursday after morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “I’m sitting here a little unsure what to do sometimes. It kind of helps me pick things up and they show me what to do.”
Konecny hasn’t needed too much guidance out of the chute. Among NHL rookies, he’s tied for the lead in assists with five. Last time out, he netted his first career goal to help spur the Flyers’ comeback from three goals down Tuesday night to beat the Sabres, 4-3, in a shootout. Konecny’s marker came in the third period, when Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, with his team trailing 3-0, first debuted the youngster alongside Voracek and Giroux in search of a jolt.
He clearly liked what he watched.
“We needed a spark so that’s why we were trying something a little bit different, a little bit new,” Hakstol said. “I liked that group.”
From the start, Hakstol has shown he’ll be fluid and experimental with his lineups, game by game. When things work, they are likely tried again. Konecny has produced, along with Sean Couturier and Voracek, on the Flyers’ previous second line. The trio has combined for seven goals, 11 assists and 18 points.
Despite the jump, Konecny’s approach stays the same.
“The first thing I thought of this morning when I saw I was on the line was don’t overthink it, don’t change what you’re doing,” he said. “Obviously I was put there because of the way I’ve been playing with my speed and things like that — it’s not to fill a skill role or something like that, it’s just to play hard. I’m not going to change anything in my game, I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them to make their moves.”
Couturier will center Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds on the second line.
Brayden Schenn will stay on the third line.
“Brayden’s five-on-five game is continuing to get back to where we all want it to be,” Hakstol said. “Just keep building with his game.
“You look at it as moving a guy up or a guy down — just trying to find the right fit.
“It’s about finding good combinations and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Captain’s own critic
Giroux leads the NHL with eight assists but is far from pleased.
He’s goalless through seven games and is not fond of his minus-5 rating.
“When you’re on the ice, you obviously want to be a plus player,” Giroux said. “Right now, that’s obviously not the case and one of the main reasons I’m not happy with my play right now.”
Giroux has experienced goal droughts before. He started the 2013-14 campaign without a goal through 15 games, but finished with arguably the second-best season of his career (see story)
He remembers.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Giroux said. “I was actually wondering when you guys were going to bring it up.”
For Giroux, though, it goes beyond statistics.
“I think the way I played defensively, it could be better,” he said. “Offensively, be a little more creative. Just need to relax a little bit more out there. When guys are relaxed, they’re more creative and enjoy the game a little bit more. I need to go back to having fun.”
He’s looking forward to the fun with his old buddy Voracek.
“It’s a zoo out there with him,” Giroux said with a laugh. “Jake’s playing well right now, he’s holding onto the puck, he’s beating guys one-on-one. You play with a guy like that, usually it’s going to help your game.”
What about the newbie?
“Explosive player, he creates plays and he competes,” Giroux said of Konecny. “He’s hard on himself and I like watching him play, so playing with him, it’s pretty fun, too.”
Weise staying true
Dale Weise returns from a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer last week.
Weise, a hard-working, checking-oriented forward, will continue to play his game.
“I’ve been suspended before,” he said. “Hopefully this is my last one but you never know. This doesn’t really change the way I play. You’ve got to go out there and be physical and finish checks — that’s just part of the game.”
Leier returned to Phantoms
Forward Taylor Leier on Thursday was loaned back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley after being recalled to the Flyers for one game in which he was a healthy scratch.
Projected lineup
F: Travis Konecny-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek

Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds

Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Dale Weise

Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning
Mark Streit-Radko Gudas

G: Steve Mason

Michal Neuvirth

Injured: Forwards Scott Laughton (knee) and Michael Raffl (abdominal pull), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee). 
All three skated Thursday morning and are progressing without set timetables for returns.

Scratches: Forward Boyd Gordon and defenseman Nick Schultz

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Updated: 12:07 p.m.

Flyers vs. Coyotes
7 p.m. on CSN
Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers (3-3-1) on Thursday night have an optimal opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the nosediving Coyotes (1-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you ready for the game with five things to know.

1. Nothin' but a G thang
For any of those worried about Claude Giroux, don’t be.

For one, Giroux may be the only player that would receive more flack for not having scored a goal yet than be applauded for leading the NHL in assists (eight).

Secondly, you may recall 2013-14 when the Flyers’ captain started the season goalless through 15 games, with just seven assists and a minus-11 rating. Giroux finished that season with a career-high-tying 28 goals and the league’s third-most points at 86.

More so than the puck being put in the net, the Flyers needed greater playmaking after last season. Giroux is providing that — as is Jakub Voracek — and, as a result, the goals are coming for the Flyers, at both even strength and on the power play. 

2. Stick with the switches?
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol made a few changes before the team’s 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Sabres on Tuesday.

Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz was healthy-scratched to make room for blueliner Radko Gudas, returning from a six-game suspension to the start the season. Gudas finished with seven shot attempts and three hits in 18:27.

“Overall, what you want to see is go out and play an efficient game,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, I thought [Gudas] went out and did that.”

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has had bad moments, stayed in the lineup for his versatility.

“He is just a guy that is reliable, who moves the puck well,” Hakstol said, “and we feel he can play in any situation whether it is OT or regulation.”

A greater change came to the team’s top line. Flyers leading goal scorer Matt Read leapfrogged to the first line from the third as Brayden Schenn dropped to Read’s previous spot. Without a point in his first three games, Schenn recorded a goal and an assist as he finds his rhythm returning from a three-game ban.

“The timing and pace of his game [are starting] to get back to where it needs to be,” Hakstol said. 

3. Oh, 'Yotes
Once they beat the visiting Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in their season opener, the Coyotes hit the road for what has turned out to be a nightmarish six-game trip.

Since the victory over the orange and black, Arizona has lost five straight by a combined score of 23-13, a losing skid that started with the team’s No. 1 goalie Mike Smith being knocked out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Coyotes are permitting an NHL-most 4.33 markers per game and own the league’s worst goal differential at minus-9.

Backup netminder Louis Domingue, who will start against the Flyers, has struggled mightily in place of Smith, going 0-4-0 in four games with a 5.03 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.

Through seven games, the Flyers have just one goal in the first period. They should jump on Arizona, which has yielded eight tallies in the opening stanza, tied for most in hockey.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Center Sean Couturier has been a bit quiet over his last four games with just one assist for one point after scoring three goals in his first three games. He’ll get going again playing alongside new linemates Wayne Simmonds and Read.

Coyotes: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming off a two-goal output last time out to give him four goals on the season. He plays a ton (26:17 TOI, tied for fourth highest in the NHL) and is a career plus-7 against the Flyers with four goals and an assist.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 5-9-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 career games against the Coyotes.

• Arizona goalie Domingue has faced the Flyers just once, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a loss last season.

• Konecny has six points (one goal, five assists), tied for third among NHL rookies.

• The Flyers own the league’s fifth-best power play at 26.9 percent.

• The Flyers will welcome back 14 members of their Hall of Fame — along with family of six other members — for Flyers Heritage Night, featuring a pregame ceremony.